What is let down reflex? Some women report feeling worried that their baby is not getting enough milk when breastfeeding and it's important to understand how your body works and responds to your baby’s need for milk
Many women choose to breastfeed
their baby, and this can be an enjoyable and an emotional bonding experience
for both mother and baby. Some women struggle with breastfeeding, finding it
difficult and sometimes even painful to breastfeed, and that’s perfectly
normal, every mother is different.
Some women report feeling worried
that their baby is not getting enough milk when breastfeeding and it's
important to understand how your body
works and responds to your baby’s need for milk. One thing you will hear your
midwife talk to you about when breastfeeding is the let-down reflex.
is the let-down reflex?
The let-down reflex is your body
responding to your baby requesting milk. When your baby begins to suckle for
milk they trigger nerves in your nipple that send a signal to your body. Your
body responds to this signal by releasing two hormones called prolactin and oxytocin.
Prolactin acts on the milk-making
tissues in your breasts, causing them to produce milk, and oxytocin causes the
breast to push out or ‘let down’ the
milk to your baby. Oxytocin also causes your milk ducts to widen and makes it
easier for the milk to flow through your nipple to feed your baby.
Put simply, the let-down reflex
makes the milk in your breasts available to your baby. Some mothers are very sensitive
to this reflex and may experience the let-down reflex even just looking at, or
thinking about their baby, before the baby is physically suckling.
does it feel like?
The physical sensation of the
let-down reflex can vary from mother to mother, but you may experience one or
all of the following physical sensations when the let-down reflex occurs:
A pins and needles like sensation, that may start under
your arm and then move across your breasts - this can feel quite strong at
Asudden feeling of ‘fullness’ in one or both of your
Milk dripping or leakingfrom your other breast while
feeding your baby
A change in the way your baby suckles- they may move
from a quick repetitive suck, to a much slower and drawn out suckling
Cramping in your uterus - especially if this is your
first pregnancy and experience of breastfeeding. Oxytocin is also the hormone
that causes the uterus to contract.
Breastfeeding can help speed up the
healing of your uterus, and help it return to it’s normal size due to the
release of oxytocin.
The let-down reflex can occur more
than once during the feed, but most mothers normally only notice the first time
it happens. Many mothers report growing accustomed to the let-down reflex and
feeling it less and less the more they breastfeed, and the more they settle
into the new routine of feeding their baby.
I swap my baby between my breasts for milk if I struggle with the let-down
When you breastfeed your baby, you
produce two different types of milk.
The first milk your baby will feed
on is often referred to as the fore-milk.
This milk is rich in protein and will satisfy your baby’s immediate hunger. You
will notice that your baby drinks this milk quickly and their sucking is quick
When the let-down reflex occurs,
your breasts ‘let-down’ a different type of milk, often referred to as the hind-milk. This milk is rich in good
fats for your baby and this is when you may notice your baby’s suckling slows
down and becomes more drawn out, as they work a little harder to drink this
Your baby needs both of these types
of milk. It is important to make sure your baby drinks fully from your breast
before switching, so your baby gets plenty of both. If you are struggling with
the let-down reflex, it could be due to a number of reasons, including stress,
anxiety, being uncomfortable or in pain.
can I help my let-down reflex when breastfeeding?
There are a few different things you
can try to help encourage the let-down reflex when feeding your baby, and to
ensure your baby gets a full feed of the milk they need. These include:
Relax:Make sure you are in a quiet, comfortable environment where
you won’t be disturbed and can focus on feeding your baby
Be prepared:Wear non-restrictive breastfeeding clothing - nursing
bras are ideal as they are specifically designed to aid you breastfeeding your
Gently massage your breast:this can help with stimulating your
nerves and encouraging the release of prolactin and oxytocin to encourage milk
Get support:having a support person can help you relax and feel
normal - this could be a close maternal family member, or friend who is also a
can I help my let-down reflex when expressing?
Some mothers express their milk using a breast pump and bottle their milk to feed their baby later. This can be
useful when taking your baby out for the day or leaving your baby with another
care provider. Encouraging the let-down reflex can feel more difficult when
you’re not physically feeding your baby. To help with this you could try:
Staying near your baby, looking at your baby, or even
looking at a photo of your baby to encourage the let-down reflex
Massaging your nipple to stimulate the nerves and
encourage your body's natural response to let-down milk
Stay relaxed as stress can inhibit your let-down reflex
It's important to remember that no
matter if you are breastfeeding or expressing, making and delivering milk for
your baby is one of your body's most natural functions. If after trying the
above methods, or similar techniques to encourage your let-down reflex you are
still not having much success it is important to seek medical advice, to make
sure your baby is receiving enough nutrients.
Consult with your midwife or doctor
for advice and support. They can advise you on the best approach for you and
your baby, and work with you to make sure your baby is fed, happy and healthy.
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